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Knee-Deep in the Dead

Series: DOOM Novels #1
Authors: ab Hugh, Dafydd
Linaweaver, Brad
Release Date: August, 1995
ISBN: 0671525557 / 9780671525552
Length:250 pages
User Summary: Corporal Flynn Taggart, a marine, finds himself battling zombies and demon-like aliens after being sent to one of the moons of Mars, where scientists had been examining mysterious artifacts known as Gates.
Demian's Thoughts: I'm not a huge fan of 3-D shoot-em-up video games, but I happily make an exception for DOOM -- the great creepy atmosphere and the impressive expandability inherent in the .WAD file format make it deserving of its place in video game history, and I have to admit to spending many hours playing through it again and again. Of course, plot is not one of its great strengths, so I didn't have very high hopes that any novels based on the game would be worth reading, even if they did claim to be "in the grand tradition of Heinlein's Starship Troopers."

As it turns out, this first entry in the novel series is not a bad read. It's obviously not high art, but it's an entirely readable page-turner. Unfortunately, the quality goes downhill as the story proceeds. The first half or so of the book, where the hero is on his own against creepy monsters, is most effective; once he finds allies and becomes proficient at slaughtering his foes, the story loses some of its edge and things fall almost entirely into mindless action. This isn't necessarily the fault of the authors, though; the game itself follows this pattern -- the creepiness wears off after a while and things become more action-oriented.

The book is faithful to the game in other ways as well -- all of the monsters are represented (though some, like the cacodemons and lost souls, are not referred to by their game names), and a few familiar levels and rooms (like the hand-shaped level and the infamous swastika room) come into play. The weaponry used is less of an exact match, but the writers do manage to fit in a chainsaw and BFG. Players of the game will also recognize the frequent need for keys to open doors (though the book allows the missile launcher to be used as a shortcut, which is not possible in the game) and the useful strategy of getting monsters to fight with each other. Although the novel goes beyond the game in giving its hero more backstory and introducing a few other characters for him to interact with, its efforts at character development remain pretty far in the background most of the time.

Actually, because of its faithfulness to the game that inspired it, the novel could have easily been made into a gamebook, and might even have worked better in that format. After a while, reading about somebody finding keys, opening doors and killing monsters gets kind of tedious; it's more fun to actually do the puzzle-solving for oneself. With a combat system and rules for managing inventory and ammo, this could have been quite a nice little action-horror adventure. As a novel, it's perfectly fun airport reading, but its weaknesses and limitations are more readily apparent.

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